I read Anita Amirrezvani’s second novel, Equal of the Sun, earlier this year. It followed the real-life story of a Persian princess from the Sufi dynasty who tried to rule her country after the death of the shah. Similar to a Jeanne Kalogridis novel set in renaissance Italy, and set at about the same time, it was a well-written tale of intrigue and politics with a rich historical setting. The admirable yet largely unlikeable princess was viewed from the perspective of a more sympathetic servant, reminding me strongly of Kalogridis’s The Scarlet Contessa. In the end, it was a good book, but heavy political historicals are really not my thing: I read the whole thing, liked it, didn’t review it, and never planned to read another of Amirrezvani’s again.
This is why I’m so thankful for randomness and used books.
I ended up with a used copy of Amirrezvani’s first novel, The Blood of Flowers. Like Equal of the Sun, it is set in 17th century Persia, but follows the story of a simple village girl who is very good at tying rugs. She has two loving parents and expects a wonderful life married to a local boy and surrounded by the close network that is her village. When her father dies unexpectedly, she and her mother must depend on the charity of a distant uncle in a large city. She finds that she loves city life, and her uncle is kind – but he is also a rug maker to the Shah. This awakens longings in the girl to be more than just a home crafter: she wants to be an artist, a rug designer, and a business owner, longings that are not easily fulfilled in her time and place.
This book works on so many levels. Of course, there’s the self-actualization of the village girl (who the novelist does not name) finding her place in a world that is not always friendly to women. That story line was so true that it resonated with me as a current-day woman engineer in heavy industry. There’s some light romance and intrigue, foreshadowing what Amirrezvani manages with her second novel. And the setting is absolutely wonderful: richly and lovingly detailed in a very unusual setting.
(Really, historical fiction readers, aren’t you tired of England and Italy all the time?)
I also appreciated the way the character’s perception of the world around her was handled. She was, appropriately, a seventeenth-century Persian girl with all of the beliefs and attitudes that come along with it. She had all kinds of misconceptions and fears about Christians, and in fact the one Christian in the novel is not a good guy. Yet all this is handled with a light touch, and I felt the author was describing the main character’s perspective rather than trying to force a point.
I originally started listening to this book on audio, and that was almost the best part. Compared to my experience with reading Equal of the Sun, I got a much richer sense of Persia, as well as a better understanding of the place names and some of the common sayings of the main characters. However, I liked the book so much that the audio wasn’t fast enough, and I finished reading in print.
Overall, I could recommend The Blood of Flowers to many different readers: historical fiction lovers, for sure, but also those who enjoy women’s fiction or romantic subplots, audio book fans, and anyone looking for a diverse read. Then, if you enjoy heavier political historicals and want another dose of Persia, follow up with Equal of the Sun.